Climate Change Effects on Forest, Alpine, and Western Prairie Habitats in Washington State


Published: July 9, 2010

Pages: 65


This paper is a reference document -- "science summary" -- for the Ecosystems, Species, and Habitats Topic Advisory Group (TAG), which is one of four topic groups working with Washington state agencies to prepare a statewide Integrated Climate Change Response Strategy. The climate change response strategy was initiated by the state legislature (SB 5560) to help the state adapt to climate change.

The purpose of this paper is to provide TAG members with information on potential effects of climate change on fish, wildlife, habitats, and ecosystems in forest and alpine environments. Although data on biological responses to climate change are limited in many cases, this paper summarizes and organizes relevant literature regarding observed changes, future projections, and implications for biological communities to inform the assessment of priorities and the development of recommendations to the Washington State legislature about possible adaptation responses.

This document draws primarily from peer-reviewed studies, synthesis reports and government publications. These include the two primary reference documents for the Integrated Climate Change Response Strategy, which are:

  • The Washington Climate Change Impacts Assessment: Evaluating Washington's Future in a Changing Climate (WACCIA) (CIG 2009); and,
  • Leading the Way: Preparing for the Impacts of Climate Change in Washington. Recommendations of the Preparation and Adaptation Working Groups (PAWG 2008).

This document is for discussion purposes only and is not intended to be published or cited. In many cases, this document uses language taken directly from the cited sources. Readers should refer to and cite the primary sources of information.

Please note that we accepted information as it was presented in synthesis reports. Readers may wish to return to the primary sources utilized in those synthesis reports for more information. In cases where we accepted the interpretation of primary information as it was stated in a secondary source, we have provided the following note in the footnote: "Information as cited in [secondary source]."

As with most summary or synthesis efforts, this document reports the central findings from published literature and does not address all the inherent complexity and uncertainty that may be present in ecological and climatic systems. This is especially true of future climate projections, which are often based on multi-model ensembles that do not perfectly capture the complexity of Washington's unique climate systems and geographic variability. Future projections are valuable primarily to identify a directional trend and a sense of magnitude. As an example of the inherent uncertainty of future projections, Salathe, et al. (2009) note that multi-model ensembles of global climate projections may under-represent the local severity of climate change.1

This paper is a joint production of National Wildlife Federation and Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife. The paper benefitted from the review and input of many WDFW scientists, led by Dr. Timothy Quinn at WDFW. Review and input was also provided by Dr. Doug Inkley and Eric Palola of National Wildlife Federation and external reviewers including Jessica Halofsky (Pacific Wildland Fire Sciences Lab), Sarah Hammond (The Nature Conservancy), Jeremy Littell (University of Washington Climate Impacts Group), and Karen Ripley (Washington State Department of Natural Resources).

We must emphasize that this discussion draft is neither comprehensive nor complete. In this complex and rapidly evolving field, we do not expect that we have identified all of the most up-to-date data or presented the full complexity of climate projections. In addition, there are many gaps in knowledge, especially regarding climate change effects on specific habitats or locations. Still, we hope that this provides a starting point for discussion, and that readers will augment this with additional data to advance our understanding of climate impacts and responses.

1 Salath, et al. (2009) Regional climate model projections for the State of Washington. In: WACCIA